Charles Vancouver Piper Papers, 1888-1926

Overview of the Collection

Piper, Charles V. (Charles Vancouver), 1867-1926.
Charles Vancouver Piper Papers
1888-1926 (inclusive)
2.5 Linear feet of shelf space, (5 Boxes), (3650 Items)
Collection Number
Cage 317 (collection)
Those of Charles V. Piper’s papers which are located at Washington State University consist primarily of correspondence and notes relative to taxonomic studies of Northwest flora, and to the history of Northwest botany.
Washington State University Libraries' Manuscripts, Archives, and Special Collections (MASC)
Manuscripts, Archives, and Special Collections
Terrell Library Suite 12
Pullman, WA
Telephone: 509-335-6691
Access Restrictions

This collection is open and available for research use.

Additional Reference Guides

Northwest Botanical Manuscripts : an Indexed Register of the Papers, 1867-1957, of Wilhelm Nikolaus Suksdorf, William Conklin Cusick, Charles Vancouver Piper, Rolla Kent Beattie, and Harold St. John in the Washington State University Library. Washington State University; 1976.


Biographical NoteReturn to Top

Charles V. Piper was born in Victoria, British Columbia, in 1867. He grew up in Seattle, and attended the Territorial University of Washington until about 1892, although he had received his bachelor’s degree in 1885 at the age of 18.

Piper’s career as a botanist had two almost distinct, although overlapping, phases, first as a regional taxonomist in the Northwest and later as an agronomist with the United States Department of Agriculture at Washington, D.C. His activity as a student of Northwest flora began in the mid-1880s, associated with his mountaineering hobby and supported by the Young Naturalists, a Seattle scientific society. Piper joined the staff of the newly opened Washington Agricultural College and School of Science, now Washington State University, in late 1892, and spent the next decade at Pullman, except for one year while a fellow at the Gray Herbarium of Harvard University. At Pullman, he and his collaborator, R. Kent Beattie, composed the first reasonably complete and authoritative regional Flora, beginning with a survey of the Palouse area of Southeastern Washington and expanding into the 1906 Flora of Washington. The investigations Piper conducted at Pullman also served as the basis for two later publications, Flora of Southeast Washington and Adjacent Idaho (1941) and Flora of the Northwest Coast (1915).

Piper’s career as a USDA researcher began in 1903 and continued to his death in 1926. His primary work consisted of the location, domestication or development and introduction of grasses. His most notable success during these years involved his discovery of Sudan grass, a plant he found in Africa and introduced to North America as a forage plant.

As a plant scientist Piper often attempted to take positions which placed him simultaneously in several of the various schools of thought which characterized the bitterly divided field of botany of his day. Throughout his career he consistently emphasized attention to economic and agricultural plants, much to the criticism of the purists of the profession. He also attempted to combine various positions in the nomenclature dispute: while arguing for the necessity of historical research to establish the validity of original names, his Flora adhered to the names proposed by the International Rule school. He himself undertook a great deal of the historical research inspired by the American Rule school. He was greatly involved in the re-discovery of Meriwether Lewis’ lost herbarium and encouraged the publications of journals of earlier plant explorers of the Northwest, such as Archibald Menzies and David Douglas. On one occasion, Piper even traveled to England to make a copy of Douglas’ journal, which was not then available in the United States. Piper also took a mixed position of matters of "splitting" and "lumping." While criticized as a "splitter" and "too anxious for new species," he expressed opinions which tended to encourage "lumping."

Poor health began to restrict Piper’s activities in his early 50s and he died at Washington, D. C. in 1926.

Content DescriptionReturn to Top

Charles V. Piper’s papers consist of correspondence and notes regarding taxonomic investigations of plants of the state of Washington, the collection of botanical specimens, the preparation of regional floras, the history of botanical study of the Pacific Northwest, and the identification of plants for the public. Piper’s letterbooks contain considerable correspondence relative to the identification of plants sent to Washington State University by the public. Significant correspondents include: R. K. Beattie, F. V. Coville, F. A. Golder, Edmond S. Meany, B. L. Robinson, W. N. Suksdorf. An index for this collection is available in Manuscripts Archives and Special Collections.

Use of the CollectionReturn to Top

Restrictions on Use

Copyright restrictions may apply.

Preferred Citation

[Item description]

Charles Vancouver Piper Papers, 1888-1926 (Cage 317)

Manuscripts, Archives, and Special Collections, Washington State University Libraries, Pullman, WA.

Administrative InformationReturn to Top


Piper’s correspondence is arranged in a chronological sequence. His notes follow the subject files he established with the exception of his typescript copy of the Journal of David Douglas, an item found among the papers of R. Kent Beattie and relocated with Piper’s papers.

Custodial History

The papers of Charles V. Piper, 1867-1926, were received by the Washington State University Herbarium in 1926 along with his library and herbarium, donated by Maude Hungate Piper, Stanley Piper and R. Kent Beattie. Transcripts of correspondence located in other archives and repositories were added from time to time.

Acquisition Information

The materials in this collection of botanical documents were transferred to the Washington State University Library in 1975 from the university’s Ownbey Herbarium.


Biographical treatments in Piper appear in Albert S. Hitchcock, Charles Vancouver Piper, 1867-1926, Proceedings of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, 57 (1928) 275-276 and Irwin F. Lange, Pioneer Botanists of the Pacific Northwest, Oregon Historical Quarterly, 57 (1957) 120-124.

Related Materials

Northwest Botanical Manuscripts : an Indexed Register of the Papers, 1867-1957, of Wilhelm Nikolaus Suksdorf, William Conklin Cusick, Charles Vancouver Piper, Rolla Kent Beattie, and Harold St. John in the Washington State University Library. Washington State University; 1976.

Washington State University Botanical Papers, 1881-1973 (Cage 53)

Xerpha Mae Gaines Papers, 1948-1970 (Cage 122)

Wilhelm Nikolaus Suksdorf Papers, 1867-1935 (Cage 315)

William Conklin Cusick Papers, 1906-1924 (Cage 316)

Rolla Kent Beattie Papers, 1899-1956 (Cage 318)

Harold St. John Papers, 1912-1957 (Cage 319)

Detailed Description of the CollectionReturn to Top

Series 1: CorrespondenceReturn to Top

Container(s) Description Dates
Box Folder
1 1
125 items.
1 2
150 items.
1 3
200 items.
1 4
225 items.
2 5
155 items.
2 6
200 items.
2 7
175 items.
2 8
130 items.
2 9
130 items.
3 10
100 items.
3 11
90 items.
3 12
185 items.
3 13
170 items.
3 14
120 items.
4 15
130 items.
4 16
85 items.
4 17
95 items.
4 18
65 items.
4 19
60 items.
4 20
15 items.
4 21
10 items.
4 22
1 volume.
Feb. 1902-Aug. 1902
4 23
1 volume.
Sept. 1902-June 1903

Series 2: Notes and Working PapersReturn to Top

Container(s) Description
Box Folder
5 24
20 items.
5 25
20 items.
5 26
45 items.
5 27
40 items.
5 28
20 items.
5 29
5 items.
5 30
10 items.
5 31
10 items.
5 32
25 items.
5 33
40 items.
5 34
50 items.
5 35
10 items.
5 36
20 items.

Names and SubjectsReturn to Top

Subject Terms

  • Botanists -- United States -- Correspondence.
  • Botany -- Research -- Northwest, Pacific.
  • Plants -- Classification -- Research -- Northwest, Pacific.
  • Taxonomists -- United States -- Correspondence.

Personal Names

  • Beattie, R. Kent (Rolla Kent), 1875-1960.
  • Coville, Frederick V. (Frederick Vernon), 1867-1937.
  • Golder, Frank Alfred, 1877-1929.
  • Meany, Edmond S. (Edmond Stephen), 1862-1935.
  • Piper, Charles V. (Charles Vancouver), 1867-1926 -- Archives.
  • Robinson, Benjamin Lincoln, 1864-1935.
  • Suksdorf, Wilhelm, 1850-1932.